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Elk Grove Pays Homeless Residents to Clean Their Camps

There are non-profit homeless assistance resource teams (HARTs) that work tirelessly to chip away at  homelessness and its complexities. There is even one here in Arden Arcade, for which we are thankful. But the large numbers of the county's homelessness residents (36 or every 10,000 residents, says the County) means the task of ending homelessness is daunting. Consider the homeless encampment at Cooper Way and Fulton Avenue. It has exploded recently. And that's not a good thing for our community.

May contain: person, human, and camping
Homeless camp on Cooper Way behind the gas station at Fulton and Arden.

• It's not good for the homeless people camped there. No one should have to live like that.

• It's not good for the adjacent residential neighborhood. It drives down property values.

• It's not good for the vacant commercial property across the street. How do you attract a new business?

• It's not good for mobility. The sidewalk is impassible. The camp encroaches into street.

• It's not good for the environment. Think trash and litter.

But wait, the City of Elk Grove provides an incentive for encampment occupants to pick up their trash and litter. Doing so has saved the city money and reduced citizen complaints. Residents of the encompments get a measure of dignity in that they can select their own food and hygene items rather than relying on shelters and charitable organizations. The program isn't a panacea, but it does provide mutual benefit to those without homes and the community they live in. Would such an approach work here? Elk Grove is a city, with a Mayor and a city Council to focus on local priorities. Our unincorporated urbanized area is run by the County. The situation here depends on the Board of Supervisors and the Sheriff.

"We distribute trash bags, and we go out every two weeks to pick up the trash, and if they have it bagged, they are eligible for up to $20 in gift cards to a grocery store."
Sarah Bontrager, City of Elk Grove Housing and Public Services Manager

The City of Elk Grove, it seems, has been able to listen to the concerns of its constituency and respond productively. But keep in mind that your voice - our community's voice - won't be similarly heard here. We don't have a Mayor and City Council. We don't have a police force that's accountable to local people the way the Elk Grove P.D. is.  Our Supervisor is up to his eyeballs with 315,000 or so constituents pinging on him; Arden Arcade holds less than 1/3 of those constituents. And he's just one vote on the Board of Supervisors, which needs 3 votes to do anything. Meanwhile, our Sheriff has over 1.5 million constituents. Good luck trying to get his attention.

Still, the County budget has money for "the homeless problem". The County got CAREs Act money for covid. There will be more covid money from the American Rescue Act. Do you think the County been effective at getting homeless people off the street, into shelters or into jobs? Are you convinced the County is making headway like Elk Grove is? Or do you think the County just hides behind the Idaho Court Decision and punts the can down the road until the pandemic is, you know, "over"?

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